We hear energy mentioned a lot, which is no surprise as it is integrated into every aspect of our lives. That will never change; if anything, demand for energy will increase due to more developing countries in the midst of their own industrial revolution, and our obsession with making technological advancements as quickly as possible. Our reliance on energy is not an issue (my reliance on coffee is another story entirely). However, the way we obtain this energy-at a steep cost to the environment-is one of the most highly-contested issues in modern day.
A fossil fuel is a fuel formed over millions of years via natural processes such as anaerobic decomposition, the most common ones being coal and gas (NAS, 2015). Almost all stages of bringing a fossil fuel to its final useable state are unsustainable, with effects including the release of toxic, contaminated water, the degradation of land, the release of gases harmful to the environment such as methane (100 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide) and waste (UCSUSA, 2016).
The most well-known impact of energy production is that combustion of fossil fuels is detrimental to climate change, and since the USA gets 81% of its total energy from fossil fuels (Omer, 2009), that’s not particularly good. Observed impacts of said combustion include that the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has risen by 30% since pre-industrial times, making the surface of the Earth almost a degree Celsius hotter. If trends continue, carbon dioxide levels are expected to double in the next 100 years, leading to exacerbated global warming. Buildings alone are responsible for 40% of the total annual energy consumption, with automobiles accounting for half of all air pollution in cities (APS, 1996). A side effect of this is a reduction in air quality in all major cities; it has been linked to a reduction in lifespan of a number of years (Chen, Ebenstein et. al, 2013). The automotive industry really is driving us into the ground.
The main approach that can be taken to promote greener consumerism is promoting alternative forms of energy with a less harmful effect on the environment. Examples include nuclear, solar, tidal and geothermal, although these forms of energy have not yet properly caught on (Thogersen and Noblet, 2012). A current example of this is in Vietnam, where incentives are being given to companies (such as a fixed tariff for selling electricity to the government, tax-free profits and discounted land purchases) in exchange for them installing solar panels and producing energy in a more sustainable way than fossil fuels.
Another approach that can be taken is to establish policies and measures to encourage the use of alternative forms of energy. Examples of this include:
- Establishing an energy committee that regularly reviews the current priorities and policies and provides advice on them
- Improving education with regard to energy use so future generations are more aptly prepared and
- Measures to promote more prudent and efficient use of energy (IPCC, 2013).
We all must look at our current energy consumption trends, and find the energy to change energy.
(1) NAS. (2015) Our energy sources: Fossil fuels. Available at: http://needtoknow.nas.edu/energy/energy-sources/fossil-fuels/. Accessed: 04/05/2018.
(2) UCSUSA. (2016) The hidden cost of fossil fuels. Available at: https://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/coal-and-other-fossil-fuels/hidden-cost-of-fossils#.Wuv8C4jwa01. Accessed: 03/05/2018.
(3) Omer. A. (2009) Energy use and environmental impacts: A general review. Journal of renewable and sustainable energy, 1.
(4) APS. (1996) Energy situation. Available at: https://www.aps.org/policy/reports/popa-reports/energy/situation.cfm. Accessed: 03/05/2018.
(5) Chen, Y., Ebenstein, Y., Greenstone, M. & Hongbin, L. (2013) Life expectancy and air pollution in China. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110 (32), pp.12936-12941.
(6) Thogersen, J & Noblet, C. (2012) Does green consumerism increase the acceptance of wind power? Energy policy, 51, pp.854-862.
(7) IPCC. (2013) Summary for Policymakers. Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group 1 to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
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